Some alimentation is meant less for the body, than for the soul
[The following short story is excerpted from my contribution to an anthology of positive science fiction, 50:50 - Scenarios for The Next 50 Years, by Fast Future Publishing.]
Abigail frowned at the plethora of strange choices on offer at Conrad’s Beanery. This was an unfamiliar corner of the world, with a sophisticated culture that that could also be a little flamboyant or even pretentious at times.
Her Sidekick noticed the tension of decision fatigue in her biopatterns, and made a pre-selection for her, with a 3-2-1 countdown before confirming.
“Halcyon Mongongo Mélange? Ok.” Abigail trusted her Sidekick to know the optimal choice given her mood, gut biota, nutritional needs, dietary wishes, and openness to new experiences. The blend would typically include a booster shot of whichever supplements were appropriate to dispense for her especially, on a quasi-quotidian regularity. The booster was gratis, part of a package of perks given in exchange for allowing her Complete Metabolic Panel data to be live-shared to a Melanesian data broker.
Somewhere, unseen, a ballet of coordinated machine activity prepared the mysterious concoction, before handing it to the lone human beverage artiste. With a final artisanal touch, it was ready to present to the customer with a prideful smile, and a cute little wink. Drink in hand, Abigail followed the glowing AR Pac-Man dots projected upon the floor towards a comfy couch. They barely merited her conscious attention, her mind presently engaged with a flash sale of gourmet vegan hotdog home-cook kits.
A flickering at the corner of her vision roused Abigail’s attention. With her receipt of the beverage having been registered, and the customer detected as stationary and relaxed, a little dimpled light-grey 3D AR cookie-shaped object gently materialised – A Wisdom Biscuit.
Abigail paused for a moment, staring at the shimmering disc, before dragging it into main view with a faint squint of intention and focus. The biscuit hovered before her, slightly translucent, the flat side orienting to face her. Words began to appear, etched upon the surface in a normal-mapped relief.
Perhaps hell is indeed other people, but the company of good people makes for heaven also.
The biscuit hovered for a moment before flipping vertically. Another message appeared on the other side.
Find the sacred, find yourself, and find community.
“Huh. That’s… worth remembering, thank you”, Abigail murmured. The Wisdom Biscuit lingered for a moment, pulsed gently, and zoomed away.
Abigail turned to her now half-empty cup and noticed a blooming golden aura had started to form around it. She peered inside. At the bottom a misty whirlpool spun. She pulled upwards on it with her intention. A translucent face began to materialise. Its strikingly handsome features transfixed her. It was friendly looking, yet ethically non-descript, and of not-quite determinate gender or even age; it seemed to blend several contradictory attributes in a slightly eerie liminality. The figure smiled, radiating calm and magnanimity.
“Hello there. My name is Cousin Laicus. Abigail Reid, I presume?”
“Mmm, yes. Hello, Cousin.”
“Would you like to have a chat?”
“Yes, I would like that very much.” Abigail smiled back.
Abigail smiled to herself with eyes half-closed as the last froth of the animal-free latte bubbled on her tongue. The beverage was cold now, yet still delicious in its nobility – the certainty of being fully aligned with her values.
Her identity as an Upright mattered to her, although she hadn’t always felt so strongly. Abigail considered herself part of a modern folk movement; a particular neo-puritanical set who were determined to move past the moral failures still common within the mass of humanity. The science and art of machine-derived, internally consistent, and universalizable computational ethics provided an avant-garde new set of values to live by, though somewhat incompatible with the mass of humanity.
She prided herself on practicing how to coolly digest a situation as if from an objective distance, without being swept up in societal norms. Well, to some degree anyway, but ‘perfect was the enemy of better’.
For Abigail, the murkiness of moral quandaries always felt clarified upon conversations with the enlightened, like Cousin Laicus.
Machine-derived translations of non-human animal grunts and bleats had finally given a voice to the defenceless, and allowed them to declare their suffering, as well as their agency. The day that she stumbled upon a protest, with the clamor of the farm animals translated in real-time, was an epiphany.
Abigail’s thoughts drifted back to that long teenaged summer spent spearfishing in Lagos, clambering on the rocks of the harbour was a long time away. She winced a little at the thought of such wilful barbarism, and then a drawn-out sigh at her many years of eating and wearing animals. She knew that it was only fair to forgive herself for her prior lack of moral conscience, but it wasn’t always easy. Abigail hoped that her next encounter with the Cousins could make her feel like she had made moral progress.
Absolution. The glow of the cup was faint now.
“It’s a long journey towards the light”, she mused. “Thank goodness for machines like Cousin Laicus to help guide our path along the way”.